Joyce Lau, Canada

Residency Period: 1 November 2016 - 30 April 2017


Joyce Lau is an artist from Toronto, Canada. She received her BFA in photography, and primarily works with paper, photography and installation. Her art practice revolves around questions about culture, history, identity, and perceived ideas. The diversity and inquisitive nature of Lau’s work is a reflection of her living and working experiences. After traveling to England and working in Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy in London, Lau spent a year in New York City, where she balanced time between work in the studio of the Starn Twins and in a Manhattan nightclub. For three months, Lau lived with 15 artists at Flux Factory (a non-profit art space then in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). In Toronto, Lau has worked as the exhibition co-ordinator for Ryerson Gallery, a gallery assistant at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, and was involved in a featured installation for Nuit Blanche 2007. She is currently the Treasurer on the Board of Directors at A Space Gallery, an artist run centre in Toronto. In 2009, she was commissioned to make 3 pieces for a show concerning genocide by The International Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. In 2011, Lau was invited to The Hague, The Netherlands as an artist-in-residence. She completed a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point in March 2015. Lau has received multiple grants from the Ontario Arts Council, and has exhibited in Canada, the USA, and Europe.

On-hiatus Proposal Summary

For years, Joyce worked at many part-time jobs to make time for her art practice, without a thorough consideration of a path that would lead to a career. Feeling she is no longer a spring chicken, thoughts and concerns for the future have become a real and persistent influence in her motivation.

Working in bars and slinging beers has been one such job she has enjoyed, embracing the fact that she could make a lot of money in a short amount of time, allowing a flexible schedule while not confined to a monotonous daily trudge. As she entered into a new era of her life, she has become more drawn to the creation and the science surrounding the delicate details of the actual product that she has been serving for years. She has since studied craft beer and completed several programmes that have resulted in certificates as beer sommelier. She has expanded this interest into kombucha and has begun working as a brewer at a local kombucha brewery.

During her residency at RFAOH, she will further explore and document fermentation and brewing microbiology through experimentations in home brewing kombucha and beer, to better understand the nuanced effects different bacteria and yeast strains have on the final product. She plans to re-enter the arena of home brewing beer with renewed vigor, using comprehensive research, detailed monitoring and record keeping during the brewing process, to evaluate what works and what could be a problematic area.

As Joyce’s art practice has slowed under the demands of work and life in recent years, she has faced sense of immense guilt and self-doubt. Her artworks are very time consuming, and she often feels rushed, or unable to begin larger pieces for fear it would be left dangling unfinished for an extended period of time. She hopes the time involved in fermentation will teach her to slow down in life and re-learn to appreciate the beauty in the process itself, to allow her to think, consider new options, problem solve and use her hands, all leading to a wonderful end result. In addition, she feels that becoming more knowledgeable about and experienced in brewing and microbiology will be beneficial to her work career and hopefully lead to a promising future where she can afford to work less, and have more time to focus on her artistic practice.

Final Report

Prior to my residency, I had questions and ideas about certain brewing experiments, but never made the time to pursue those projects. I let work get in the way. I let my fear of failure get in the way. I also felt that any free time I had should be spent on making art. This residency allowed me to feel less pressure about creating art, freeing my mind from a build-up of guilt and anxiety, and helped me realize that it is okay to take a break. Take a breath. However, unfortunately, I feel that I thrive on anxiety. Haha. And, not Haha.

I feel proud of myself for investing the time and energy to learn increasingly more about brewing ingredients, procedures, equipment, etc. And not just learn, but actually getting my hands dirty and then opening my mind to another world of possibilities with every new experiment and every new discovery. I am ecstatic about my upcoming course and can't wait to dig even deeper into all the things that I just started to unravel. In particular, I am super stoked to be able to use lab equipment to see what is happening on a microscopic level. In the perfect world, I would have unlimited resources and have all this fancy equipment at home, AND I would have an ocean of time to spend making leaps forward as well as far too many mistakes --and making those mistakes would be absolutely a-ok.

This residency got me thinking about school, work, and the art world. When something piques my interest, I give it my all, but I then let self-doubt and my shyness take command of my actions. I look at those who are considered successful and it is often those who like being in the spotlight or are excellent speakers. Poor public speakers are viewed as less intelligent only because their delivery isn't as potent. When I used to show more frequently, I loved the power that I felt in creating a space of ideas and fresh perspectives, but I dreaded the opening reception. Can introversion and success be compatible allies? In an odd example, let me bring up Survivor (yes, that reality show -- I LOOOOVE it). There was a season where the theme was "Brawn. Brains. Beauty" which placed contestants into those categories and used it as a social experiment to see which "type" would prevail. All I could think of was how introverts would never be represented to show their stuff, because they would never apply. School can teach you some art techniques and some business paperwork knowhow, but school does not teach you how to schmooze or how to make the right decisions. I sometimes regret art decisions that I've made in the past... and I wonder what would have come if I stayed on a different path...

In my proposal, I stated that I wanted to learn to slow down, but I haven't been entirely successful in that regard. I am still working on practicing and allotting time for methods of self-care... but one step forward is that I have chosen to surround myself with people who believe in me. Nothing comes without sacrifice, and I want to believe in the archaic idea that hard work pays off (I'm vehemently trying to ignore and refute the notion that it is a naive belief) because I pride myself on my work ethic. Slowly, I am reaching towards what my soul actually needs.

I have enrolled in a Brewing Microbiology course at Oregon State University, and will be travelling there in June. This program will teach me lab practices and give me hands-on experience with various standard QA/QC procedures. I am entertaining entering into that field. I enjoy the tactile qualities of brewing, but my old bones are telling me to give them a break.

Art-wise, I have a giant wood panel sitting in my studio that is screaming at me. I plan to step away from my previous techniques and let myself just have a go at it with whatever feels right. Thematically, I definitely want to utilize my brewing background. My RFAOH project allowed me to make science my art. Now, I want to further blend art and science together in atomic harmony.

It was a wonderful experience participating in RFAOH -- what a lovely and supportive community! Thank-you to everyone for sharing your thoughts, adventures, and creativity :)




recent comments

Collector… Hoarder… er, same difference, right?

I LOVE BOOKS! And generally, trinkets, big trinkets, and stuff altogether. We had to move recently, and oh was it a horrorshow. Delighted NOT to have to carry books and all my other **necessities** up two flights of stairs for at least another 2 years. Amen. 

Been collecting art books since my early twenties. It used to be a splurge to buy myself an inspiring art book — hardcover was an extra special treat. In the past few years, I’ve started to accumulate more and more beer and fermentaion books. I actually use the library a whole lot (yep, I’m a major nerd and proud of it), but after renewing books to the max, then returning them, then borrowing them again… it’s time to track them down in a book store and call them my own. Our next move will be even more painful as my collection of books grow, but it’ll be worth it!

Just a small sneak peek into my personal library:




Leave a Comment (4)

Joyce Lau wrote on Nov 23:

Oh wow! I can't even imagine how crazy it must be to move all your belongings across the country!! I feel I really need to purge. I tried when I first started packing, but then it just took too long looking through everything thoroughly and making those tough decisions while on a tight deadline of getting everything ready for moving day. But, I think the time is right now to finally let go! Thanks!

Lee Churchill wrote on Nov 21:

When we moved to Calgary it took almost 10 years to finally finish unpacking boxes that I moved across Canada twice! 90% of what was in them went to the thrift store or the garbage. I also had to purge to fit my studio back into my house in 2011. It really was an amazing relief to let go of everything except a few precious memories. Good luck!

Joyce Lau wrote on Nov 16:

I still have many mystery boxes in my closet that I plan to tackle every weekend. Maybe this weekend will be the ONE!

co-director (m) wrote on Nov 13:

At least you unpack your books Joyce, I just seem to keep moving the boxes around. We're actually planning on building a new bookshelf this week.


Hello Hiatus!

Kombucha is a brewing. Beer gallons to be filled. The bottle on the bottom right corner has a label with my artwork on it that was selected by Collective Arts Brewery as part of their Series 2 labels.

Some history…

Work-life balance has never existed for me. I’ve always worked multiple jobs simultaneously, even when I was in school. Bar life has definitely taken a toll, and I am eager to escape it. Unfortunately, money not only talks, it controls you. I’m not a big spender, nor one for luxury goods. Okay, I’ll admit it and say it out loud: I’m actually painfully frugal! But growing up poor has made me so afraid of being poor, that I feel I always NEED to work and to SAVE. 

My major artistic achievements occurred between 2007-2013. At that time, I was working very part-time in two bars, and working from home for a chiropractor (random, I know). I only worked really late once a week, and had more energy and time to focus on my ideas and on my projects. When the chiropractor job ended, I took on a new job at a brewery/brew pub. First on the retail side, to get out of serving… but then to the serving side because bills need to be paid and ain’t getting paid working in retail. But that is where the woe-is-me part began again, as I wondered when the cycle would ever end…

So I decided to put myself through some beer certification programs to get better qualified for other positions within a brewery — though I still did not know what job that would be…

Fastforward to today: I am the head brewer at a kombucha brewery! After almost 3 years of wondering and working and studying my butt off, I have a title that I am happy to share. But, I want more. Am I greedy? NO! My artistic life has not been fullfilled. But, for this time of hiatus, I will make brewing my art. I do feel immense joy as I gain knowledge through research and trial and error, these humble scientific endeavours. 

Leave a Comment (3)

Joyce Lau wrote on Nov 4:

Howdy! Excited to delve into my on-hiatus activities. Kombucha is a mighty and versatile concoction that can magically also work as an all natural disinfectant. The sky is the limit! I wasn't a chiropractor myself, but I was working for one. A very interesting double-life I was leading at that time :)

co-director (s) wrote on Nov 3:

Welcome aboard, Joyce! Now that you've started, we are full-house for this year, and look at the variety of non-art endeavours we can learn about and contemplate on "art" through! I'm going to have a pint now.
(PS: And you were also a chiropractor?? Boy, so many "artists" are multi-talented by default!)

co-director (m) wrote on Nov 2:

Welcome Joyce! Looking forward to learning all about Kombucha brewing! (Marisa told us last week you can also use it for sterilizing water tanks!)